The Problem With Little Girls & Dance Lessons

Mom Moment 19

ballet classI never thought I would actually have a girl. With years of infertility both before and after my first child was born, I became resigned to the fact that my son would be an only child. Of course, then I became pregnant, which was only slightly more shocking than when the doctor told us the sex of the baby.

My first thought when he said those magical words, "It's a girl," were: Dance lessons! I grew up dancing and love the art for so many reasons. My dreams of tutus, ballet slippers, and recitals that I'd long since cast aside were suddenly on the horizon again.

And now, three years later, my daughter has started her first dance class. Each Tuesday when we enter the studio I get a little teary seeing her dance (or run if we're being honest) across the dance studio floor in her saggy little pink tights, black leotard, and impossibly messy bun. But it also gives me nightmares.

Dance is a slippery slope when it comes to little girls, and if you need any evidence of the downside, just watch an episode of Dance Moms. As bad if not worse than Toddlers & Tiaras, it shows exactly what I fear dance has become about for too many little girls -- skimpy costumes, heavy makeup, and way-too-sexualized moves.

I'm no prude, and I don't expect them to do "On the Good Ship Lollipop," (Which I did in 8th grade, thank you very much), but too often today I've seen little dancers looking like they should have a show in Vegas, and that's not okay.

Katherine Hiegl recently wrote a blog post on iVillage about her reaction to the show and her own fears for her 3-year-old daughter, Naleigh, which are similar to mine.

It terrifies me, the amount of value we place on a woman’s looks, body, and ability to drop it like it’s hot on the dancefloor. It’s one thing to walk into a club and see twentysomethings embracing their sexuality and having some fun, but it’s another thing altogether watching seven-year-olds shake their booties, bellies, and nonexistent boobies on a stage in a room full of adults and be handed a trophy for it. What in the world are we telling them? That sexy is the prize and is the talent they have?

Of course the show picks extreme examples, and there are plenty of dance studios who would never allow such things, which I will seek out if dance is something my daughter chooses to stick with over the years. But I've also seen how some of the less-than-desirable aspects of dance creep up on moms with older daughters. Not to the extreme of Dance Moms perhaps, but in the dance routines that begin to raise eyebrow a little at a time, the bare midriffs that are "part of the show," and the provocative music that permeates our society.

Over time -- maybe without parents even noticing it  or maybe because they just get exhausted from fighting it-- it  just continues to push that line between art and expression and something that little girls just shouldn't be doing. Not just because it makes us uncomfortable, but because of the message it sends to them about what entertainment is and what their value is as a woman.

Dance should be healthy both emotionally and physically for little girls. It can be a beautiful art and means of expression, but it's up to us as parents to make sure that's what it is for our daughters. It would be nice if we got a little more support from the rest of society along the way, but we certainly can't count on it.

As Heigl concluded in her blog:

We will have to find a way to convince our children that what they see in the world around them is not always right and true even when it’s far more prevalent than what we tell them is right and true. We will have to hope, pray, and beg them to trust us and commit every moment to earning their trust so that we can ensure their emotional, spiritual, and physical well being and self-worth.

Let the dance begin.  

Do you worry about dance lessons and your daughter?

Image via tiarescott/Flickr

a mom's life, girls, toddler activities


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Ladyw... Ladywithtwo

I do worry about that with my daughter also. I specifically chose a conservative Christian dance group for her to avoid little hoochie outfits. I'm sure there are other more conservative dance groups across the country.

shera... sheramom4

I have three daughters who have all taken dance at various times, just like I did for 15 years. Sadly, none of continued thinking that ballet is beautiful or fun and now I have a soccer player, my middle daughter takes a hip/hop dance class and my little one is part of a conservative theater group. One of the biggest concerns I had with dance wasn't about the costumes or the moves, but the body image in terms of weight. I loved ballet....adored ballet, was good at ballet....but I was also 5'8" at 13 years old and a hefty (for ballet) 115 lbs...I quit auditioning after being told repeatedly I was too tall and too fat and just danced for enjoyment and in small local productions. Another big concern is that of stage moms, which is why my youngest is in a conservative drama group with very strict policies on parent behavior. The other two also participate in programs that encourage healthy expressions versus negativity within the group.

nonmember avatar Julia Stewart

I very much remember the horror I had when seeing young girls booty dance at a recent dance recital -- so I totally understand. The issue is that many of the teachers are young women without children, in addition there is this sense at some levels that you have to shake it to entertain. The best dances are those who artistically tell a story ... or those our little girls do that give us a smile.

Aeris... AerisKate

I'm not worried yet because although my daughter LOVES to dance, she hated dance lessons (so we stopped after three lessons).  If she ever wants to take dance again, we'll be looking for a studio that is conservative. 

count... countrygirl670

I had concerns about this also. I did the dance lesson thing for about a year.  Then we bailed and I put my daughter in piano lessons instead years ago.  No butt shaking, no skimpy costumes, no body image issues. 

meatb... meatball77

You just have to be careful, it's no different than any other activity.  There are horrid sports coaches ect. . out there.

My daughter is in competitive dance and loves it.  She's on a highly competitive team and it's all positive and completly appropriate. 

arlis... arliss123

This is exactly the problem I have with dance. We just joined the YMCA, and they offer dance sessions with a little recital at the end, so if we're going to do dance, that's probably the direction we'll go. I'll have to check out their costumes, though. I've also thought that it would be fun to get a group of moms and little girls together once a week and pay a teenage dance to give a causual lesson. Ten little girls at $5 a piece would earn someone $50 per week for a one hour lesson, which I don't think is too shabby.

nonmember avatar kay

I have major concerns about this especially since we are a part of the black american community where booty shaking is honored as an art form amongst so many young people. Because of this I refused anything labeled 'dance' and instead went with a local ballet academy. No booty shaking going on there. It does pain me though that my 6yr old daughter would also love to be a part of the cheerleading group that so many of her classmates are a part of, but I cringe whenever I see their rountine which includes hip shaking and usually a faceful of makeup. I make it a point to explain to her why her mom and dad thinks that certain behavior and clothes are not appropriate for children and she gets it. I also hate that from such a young age girls are taught to 'cheer' for boys, seems like a secondary/submissive role to me.

Rhond... RhondaVeggie

Start by worrying about her being raised by such a sexist mother. Boys do take dance class too you know, it's not like a vagina is necessary in any dance routine unless we're talking seriously messed up pole dancing. My son took ballet and dance in preschools and kindergarten and loved it, he was one of the best in his class.

nonmember avatar ash

Lol.rhondaveggie.... Seriously?

The reality is a dance class is usually made up of all girls, and if it IS a Co Ed class, its like ten percent boys or less. And, when its a CoEd class, the boys and girls often have different variations on their moves. She's talking about being worried about how quite a few of the dance studios out there over sexualize little girls. Get a grip.

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